It is April 1, and rents and many mortgages are due and people across this country are unemployed, underemployed and losing their businesses due to a government-mandated stay-at-home order.
But this order has been given without any guarantee that we will all have and keep our shelter. The science is clear — these are the right actions to take to ensure that our health care system isn’t overwhelmed resulting in unnecessary deaths.
We know that unemployment claims are outpacing those filed during the 2008 crisis, which goes to show how well the stay at home order is working.
Just days ago, Gov. Jared Polis admitted that this order is not likely to be raised by mid-April. Even President Donald Trump has changed tune and extended the social distancing recommendation until April 30.
What does this mean? For at least two months people in Colorado are likely not going to have work, based on best estimates, but only time will tell for certain. When there is an order to stay in place, one must realize that having a place to stay is not a privilege — but a right!
Let us be clear, one $1,200 check helps, but we know that it isn’t enough to even cover one month of rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Denver, let alone food, medicine and utilities.
Beyond this, unemployment relief doesn’t apply to contract workers and stimulus checks exclude those that fill taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead of a Social Security number as well as undocumented workers. These people pay taxes, rent and own in our communities.
In the wake of this, our communities are showing unity and have come together with petitions and letters calling for a wide variety of issues including rent freezes for tenants and small businesses, and cancellations for renters and mortgage holders during the crisis emergency orders.
To date more than 40 state legislators, local electeds, U.S. Senate candidate Lorena Garcia and 50-plus community organizations have signed onto one or more of these lists of appeals. It is clear that the support for these demands are as intersectional as these issues and the crisis that has caused it.
Property owners facing a mortgage payment rightfully worry a rent strike will harm them. Mortgage relief concurrent with rent relief is clearly needed, and now is the time for both landlords and tenants to work in solidarity to achieve this relief.
Such relief must ensure that neither landlords nor tenants face balloon payments, which will be as impossible to make after the crisis as during it. Recent moves by the Federal Housing Finance Authority and the American Bankers Association fall far short of this.
Let us not forget that these are the same banks that were bailed out and profited from the 2008 crisis. We bailed out the banks, now it’s their turn to bail the people out.
Legally the governor may have authority to issue a freeze and cancellation on rents, mortgages, and evictions under C.R.S. § 24-33.5-704(7)(a-b). While Gov. Polis has called for business to do the right thing, and work with us, history has shown that business entities aren’t going to willingly give up their ability to turn a profit, especially when the banks are still calling their loans due. As such, we need to organize to force action from our government.
As we struggle as a society to heal, mourn and prepare for a likely recession we call on chief judges throughout the state, Chief Justice Coats, Attorney General Phil Weiser and Gov. Polis to close all eviction and foreclosure courts, suspend the filings of evictions and suspend the issuance of summons of eviction until further notice.
Even though the governor has announced that state resources will not be used for law enforcement to execute evictions, many tenants will still live in fear and worry if they receive a summons or if an eviction is filed.
We also ask courts to not accept stipulated agreements after the courts reopen without first giving the renter the opportunity to hear from the judge or speak with a lawyer. Further, the governor and legislature should provide funds for those facing eviction to access legal representation.
For readers that wish to take action please contact your chief district judge here.
During this unprecedented time of crisis, unprecedented action and leadership is needed. Elected officials should consider that voters won’t forget these decisions come election time.
Annie Martinez and Darren O’Connor are co-regional vice presidents of the National Lawyers Guild – Southwest Region. Ean Thomas Tafoya is an organizer of Colorado Rent Strike and Eviction Defense.